Analysis: An old photo from 2019 Hong Kong protests circulates in Myanmar with the same false claim
On March 16, a Facebook post claimed in Burmese that using undercover police officers dressed as protesters was a tactic adopted by China during the 2019 anti-government protests in Hong Kong and it could be happening in Myanmar, too.
The image used in the post shows an individual in Hong Kong who appears to be throwing a Molotov cocktail. A holstered sidearm can be seen in the photos and it is circled in yellow, indicating that it is a weapon used by police officers and therefore, the individual is an undercover police officer pretending to be a protester.
It was a screen capture of a tweet in English posted two days earlier with the same claim, warning people in Myanmar to watch out for the same strategy by the military.
The Facebook post has around 10,000 shares, 8,200 reactions and 88 comments. The original tweet was later deleted, but it had 277 retweets, 305 likes and 33 comments before it disappeared.
Annie Lab could not verify whether or not the military junta is using undercover soldiers in the ongoing civil disobedience movement in the country but we can prove that the picture in the social media posts does not show either an undercover officer in Hong Kong or a gun used by the police force.
The photos used in the claim have a Getty Images watermark that credits AFP photographer Anthony Wallace, who took the two pictures on Aug. 31, 2019, in front of the Hong Kong Government Headquarters in Admiralty.
In the first picture, the sidearm can be seen at an angle. We were able to magnify the image below.
In the second picture (seen below), the sidearm is in full view. Since it is holstered, only the handle is visible when magnified. When rotated, we can see that there is a protrusion above the handle. The handle and the frame are brown while the slide is black.
On Oct. 7, 2019, the then News Lens editor Cheng Ka-yue fact-checked the claim in Chinese and came to a conclusion that the sidearm was an air gun, a type called BB gun or airsoft gun.
The article features a photo of the same protester holding the gun in hand captured by Hong Kong Free Press photographer May James.
Annie Lab team believes that the air gun in question is a Glock 18C Airsoft gun, pictured below.
Cheng’s analysis also points to the transparent bottle-like container and mentions that it is a BB gun pellet container.
We are able to magnify the image below and compare it to known BB gun bottle containers from Asian airsoft gun pellet manufacturer BB King to determine that it is indeed a bottle container for pellets.
A livestream of the Aug. 31, 2019 protest from Apple Daily HK has also captured the protester with the air gun starting at 03:33:40.
At 03:34:03, the protester is seen again in the video.
On Sep. 1, 2019, after the claim about the undercover officer instigating conflict between the riot police and protesters was widely shared in Hong Kong, local online publication Dimsum Daily reported that the Civil Human Rights Front had confirmed that the sidearm was indeed an air gun.
The local human rights group referenced the Telegram channel @antiextraditionverifiednews, which spoke to those at the scene and was able to confirm that it was an air gun, adding that the person who carried it during the said protest was a member of a gun club.
In a press conference, the Hong Kong Police Force’s Senior Superintendent Yu Kai-jun said the sidearm pictured with the protester is not a standard-issued firearm for the Hong Kong Police Force.
In a Now News video, a screenshot of which can be seen below, she can be heard at 1:43 saying, “The sidearm shown in the picture is not what we, the force, use.”
An article from the Hong Kong Police Force’s magazine in 2007 and photos in 2019 show them using different kinds of firearms: the Smith & Wesson Model 10 .38 caliber revolver, the Glock 17 9 mm Luger pistol and the SIG Sauer P250.
Annie Lab found news photos of the respective guns being used by the police officers below.
While it has been confirmed by the Hong Kong Police Force that some police officers were undercover in the 2019 anti-government protests, they have denied any involvement of the People’s Liberation Army from Mainland China or any other Chinese organization in their actions.
On social media, posts about China’s alleged involvement in the Myanmar coup in February 2021 have gained a lot of traction in Myanmar.